Should police have to defend their actions when it comes to protecting your safety? 27

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Police shot a man armed with a knife and ranting at officers during the busy lunch-time rush at a Westfield shopping centre at Hornsby on Thursday, June 9, but also injured three innocent shoppers in the process.


The action triggered an immediate investigation and has seen New South Wales’ assistant commissioner Denis Clifford defend the actions of the male and female police officers.

“The officers have fired shots at the offender, he was wounded several times — unfortunately some bystanders were also injured with other bullet or fragment wounds,” Clifford told a media conference.

He advised that the offender was psychiatric patient Jerry Sourian, who ran at officers with a large carving knife.

“If a Taser was available a decision was made by those officers in a life and death situation,” Clifford said.

However, when it comes to ‘life or death’ situations is it fair and reasonable for the authorities to have to defend their actions? Don’t we want them to protect us from danger?

“There [are] a range of tactical options available to police in any situation,” Clifford said. “You cannot dictate exactly what option to use in every circumstance.”

Other options available to officers were Tasers, sprays and batons.

As a member of the public it’s important to know the police officers protecting us are trained adequately to deal with people, including those with mental health issues, so determining the use of guns was not the wrong thing to do in that situation is crucial to the overall investigation.

There is some concern that police don’t receive enough training when it comes to handling situations involving people with mental health issues.

According to The Daily Telegraph officers receive just one day of training to deal with cases involving mental health patients, but at least half of all police shootings in NSW involve mentally ill people.

Yet where there is threat to public safety the community looks to its police force to address it.

There has been public debate about the lack of understanding within the general community of the ways in which to assess such danger prior to taking action. Whether or not that means the public should just ‘trust’ the police officers to do the ‘right thing’ is a matter for opinion.

Is it right for the public to criticise police officers for the action they take in protecting the public from danger? Have you ever been involved in a situation requiring police assistance?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. The police HAD to take some sort of action with an armed man, but I think they made a mistake drawing guns, especially as they had several non-lethal weapons on their persons, such as capsicum spray. But the MAIN mistake that was made wasn’t by the police at all! As far as I have been able to ascertain from news items, this man was allowed out on day release from some sort of mental establishment – someone surely made an error of judgement here. If he hadn’t been allowed out in the first place, the police wouldn’t have drawn their guns and three innocent individuals would not have been shot.

    2 REPLY
    • When someone is about to lunge at you with a huge carving knife you don’t have time to put your gun down and pull out your Tazer. What a perfect world that would be! If you are standing with a loaded gun screaming over and over again’ Drop the Knife’ but they don’t and choose to stab you then yes shooting them is the only way you get to not die yourself. Police don’t join up to die and for all those idiots who says it’s part of the job it’s not.

    • Let Police get on with their job. They are highly trained and it’s very very hard to be accepted into Police training in the first place. If you are not prepared to be one yourself then your opinion doesn’t matter. An investigation will take place with witness statements and cameras being viewed. It should not be any legal loophole that allows drugged, drunk or mentally ill people to have no accountability when they go to harm or actually kill other people. He was not well so that’s justification to threaten shop keepers and Police with a knife. Guess what…’s No Excuse. He was known to Police so that should tell you something about him straight away.

  2. All NSW Police have high powered guns , so should have adequate training in how to safely use them and also how to hit their target . They should also be rechecked on their shooting range annually to see if they remember their lessons . If they cannot hit the target , then their gun should be replaced with a Taser or other safe device to stop these mentally ill people . Three innocent old ladies were shot before they managed to hit their target . It can be clearly seen on the video clip that they were shooting and missing their target whilst innocent people were walking behind the man .

    1 REPLY
    • Should be Target Practice checked every three months’!

  3. If it was me and I had a gun I would have done the same, the police are human too

  4. if they had to use extreme force to subdue the perp however firing at a target without a clear line of fire was irresponsible at best with that many innocents in the area guns should not have been used as police have several forms of deterrent on their person such as pepper spray taser etc. far less lethal and no danger to the innocents in the area, so i think yes they should be asked to explain why there was a need for lethal force to be used before exhausting other means of subduing the suspect, i hope these officers think twice before firing their weapons again.

    1 REPLY
  5. Apart from the irresponsible who let this lunatic out, and the really POOR marksmanship of the officers involved, I personally justify their actions. tj

    1 REPLY
    • I find it hard to believe in the split second to make a decision bit of the story. The police were called on 000 about a crazy man with a knife or scissors threatening people. On the way the police could have and should have gotten more info and should have and could have had time to work out strategies. It seems to me that the police just turned up, no planning, no strategy and a started shooting and mainly missing.

      The whole thing appears very amateurish to me and it is very, very lucky that the 3 old ladies were not killed or more stray bullets did not kill others. Is opening fire as a first choice in a busy shopping centre entrance part of the training manual?

      I fully agree that the police should do all it takes to protect themselves AND the community. These police made a snap decision – I am not to judge the level
      Of danger they felt – that only they can tell.

      But I do question the references frequently sprouted about “well trained police force”. The lesson to learn is that much better training is needed. So a review of training of police in gun use, dealing with mentally ill people and a review of how this mental patient was (a) allowed out and (b) could not be found for 2 weeks. More target practice is also called for

  6. So many shots , what are the police force ,,, a hillbilly group then never trains their people.. one shot should have taken the man down , another cover up coming

    1 REPLY
  7. I can never understand why police shoot to kill in a situation like this. These police were obviously incompetent. Why didn’t they use capsicum spray? To fire shots that risk the lives of passers by is simply irresponsible. I am not a cop basher – I just think that their handling of this case was incompetent.

    1 REPLY
    • They did exactly the right thing. Disgusting that they must defending their actions. Only mistake they made was not firing a fatal shot.
      I for one am grateful that we have these marvelous men and women willing to lay their lives on the line for us every time they turn up for work.

  8. Denis (A retired one who knows)

    They should not have to defend their actions as such however they should – and will be – taken to task in debriefings and reviews of their actions. And so should the people who let this obviously still disturbed person, free into the public. Unless you have been there you do NOT have the right to criticise the actions of others in such circumstances. Try this experiment with friends. Put someone with in the middle of 3 or 4 of you – each of you within calm talking distance (see how close you HAVE to get). Now with button-down-secured “options” fastened about you (so others can’t snatch them away from you) show open handed appeasement and try and talk this person into “surrendering”. Now have Mr-in-the-middle charge at one of you and see what you can unfasten and get out BEFORE hands are laid on you. Take turns, and by the way – all of you make sure you have a change of underwear for later.

    2 REPLY
    • Exactly! I couldn’t agree with you more. From my own comment you may have guessed that I’m retired from a similar occupation and have liaised with many police officers over the years. I was also thinking as I watched the female officer that she was probably having the same thoughts as you described – trying to size up the risks, figure out the geometry of bullet fire. I forgot to mention this point so I’m glad that you did. Most of us have never walked a mile in police shoes!

    • Denis agree with you whole heartedly. Not knowing all the circumstances I would like to know this. Why could not 1 Officer used the tazer and the 2nd Officer have the weapon (gun) drawn in case it was required? Not being judgemental as I was not there and do not know the full circumstances. I feel for the two Officers involved.

  9. I suspect that more information will be made available soon. There were conflicting reports about how he disappeared from the facility, so who knows what PR will be released to keep the public happy. A 12 yo relative of mine was one of the people who he lunged at with his knife. She and a few school friends then witnessed the shootings. One can imagine her parents’ shock and concern when she rang them to come and collect her. It may take a long time for her and her family, and all the other families, to recover from the visual imprint of the event. This is what bothers me here. More and more innocent people are being exposed to violence, usually due to criminal behaviour, psychiatric disorders or misuse of alcohol. On the other side, some people with a history of an acquired brain injury (due to a car accident, fall, assault etc.) can end up in the prison system because of cognitive changes that are outside their control. There isn’t a “one size fits all” when it comes to incidents of violence. I find it incredible that OH & S regulations require police and rescue vehicles to use overly strong flashing lights when they’re with the general public on the side of a highway. This can trigger epilepsy, visual disturbances and nausea. I can only presume that law enforcement agencies don’t take this into account when they create these regulations. Do they get enough training in negotiation skills and risky health conditions? The flashing lights to warn of speed limits during school times don’t seem have the same negative effect. From the TV videos last night, it did appear that the police officers hadn’t had much experience with this type of incident. However, it reinforced to me that they have unenviable tasks every day of their working lives that often result in early retirement due to PTSD. We need them and they need our support.

  10. no if someone was racing at me with a knife l would do the same, unfortunate other people were shot also. It is always so easy for people to judge what ‘should’ be done when they are not in that situation

  11. There were some interesting comments from 2 academics on the ABC this morning regarding the Sydney police shooting. I was about to dismiss them as arm chair experts until the announcer said they were both ex police officers of many years service. A man is running at you with a knife, his intentions are to harm or kill you, there is a fraction of a second to decide,baton, taser, spray or firearm. Baton, he would be too close to use it. Taser, he has a loose fitting jumper will the taser penetrate his clothing, spray, he is advancing at a pace that the spray may not take effect before he is upon you with the knife. The two gentlemen concluded in their experience a firearm was the only option to protect them selves and the public.
    Who would be a police officer, your damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  12. Seems to be to keep ‘higher-up’ cops in a job, with investigations into normal cop’s doing what they’re paid to do, ie protect the public in all circs., especially with a nut case that some public servant has decided is OK to be on the street, & happenstance, armed with a bee great knife!

    There’s no way I’d go into a job,, where I was ‘investigated’ for doing said job.
    It’d be soul destroying, & nervous breakdown material, and the pay’s not worth it, either!

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